i am trying to upload photos, but for some reason, this shouldnt be this hard. i will update in the morning when i have time again!
...so let's go already!
i am trying to upload photos, but for some reason, this shouldnt be this hard. i will update in the morning when i have time again!
05.23.2011 - 05.25.2011
we arrived at our nice little hotel in chiang mai, thailand in the late afternoon. glad to report i was feeling like close to 100% better by then. so whatever it was, it seems to be out of my system now. phew!
our group leader owen took us around on a short walking tour to orient us to the city. i got the single room this time (several of the girls and i have been shuffling and taking turns with the single room and sharing). a few of us played some cards and then grabbed dinner in town. after dinner, we headed to a muy thai boxing match. i had really wanted to go to one in bangkok, but flo wasn't too interested. and that's fine cause it's cheaper here in chiang mai! it's funny i even wanted to go cause i don't like regular boxing cause i think it's a bit too violent. but for some reason this didn't strike me as being so bad. the event started with a couple young (8 yrs oldish boys) fighting. it wasn't too violent and it was really short. then that had a match between some females, who probably could have passed as males. they were pretty aggressive. one girl was pretty knocked out by the end. there was another match of ladies, then a intermission of sorts with 4 dudes they blindfolded and put boxing gloves on. one guy lost his boxing partner and started hitting the ref. the ref actually kicked him back! then there were i think 2 more male matches. the final one was an international one. this one was spain against thailand. i was rooting for spain cause he showed up in a silk robe. and he totally won. they seemed to be a bit even, until bam! spain just knocked thailand out of nowhere. for those unfamiliar with muy thai, i don't know much about it. it's kinda like kickboxing. you get more points apparently for kicking or for kneeing, but not as many for punching. and there is your muy thai lesson
we had a fairly early start yesterday morning. we got picked up by our local guide, sonny. he drove us all up north to do our hilltribe trek. after a couple stops, we made it to a village where the karen tribe live. there are some karen tribes, i think closer to myanmar, who wear long coils around their necks. these were not the karen we saw. these wore some coils around their waists, and were also somewhat modern. they recently got running water. and they have satellite dishes and cell phones and every few hours the tribe chief comes over a loud speaker and makes announcements. the villages consisted of small straw huts on stilts and lots of livestock about. there was the cutest baby pigs (i want a pet pig someday sigh). and there were also really cute puppies (flea ridden and disease written in their faces though). the weird part was that they dropped us off and they walked us through these people's homes. and they would talk about tribes people standing nearby. it was really voyeuristic. i really didn't enjoy it that much. the vilage wasn't anything much different than what we passed through in laos either. then a few local women from another tribe came trying to sell stuff. and they were really pushy. they followed us from one village to another, asking people multiple times if they wanted to buy something. i felt bad, since we're kinda invading and like we should. but apparently they are partially funded from our trip costs for our stay there.
sonny led us on what owen described as an easy stroll through farmland with only one hill. he lied. it was basically 1 hour all uphill and 1 hour all down hill, quite steep too. and through muggy forests of bamboo and insects. the top wasn't an amazing view either. but it was a good workout! once we got back, we set up our things in a long hut. we all stayed in one hut, with thin mattresses and mosquito nets. we entertained ourselves by showering with a mountain spring water bucket shower, playing cards and shopping (more women selling goods). dinner was prepared by some locals. and it was yummy! a veggie soup and fresh veggies and white rice. after dinner, there was a bonfire and some local children came and sang songs for us. then we taught them a song. a girl sarah from england led us in the hokey cokey (their version of the hokey pokey with slightly altered lyrics). the fun part that he children loved was we all grabbed hands in a cirlcle and ran to the middle of the circle in between each round.
there wasn't much else to do after that. so we were all hitting the hay by 9 pm. so of course this morning we were all up by like 6:30 am. we had a nice breakfast of toast and boiled eggs. then we were led just a few minutes away to our transport for the next hour: elephants! frank and i boarded a nice looking asian elephant, which are slightly smaller than the african ones. but it was still rather large. our driver sat on its head with a small stick to prod it. we sat in a little wodden platform thing saddle on to the elephants back. it was very awkward at first getting used the elephant's lumbering steps. luckily there were railing on the side of the saddle to hang onto. after spraying us with snot and then water and walking through some forests, we got in the trucks and headed to our next destination: bamboo rafting down a big stream. i was with two people who didn't want to get wet, so we had a leisurely float down the river for about 30 minutes. after lunch, we stopped at a place where they recycle elephant dung into paper, mmm. then we stopped at a butterfly farm and orchid nursery. the butterflies were big but not that pretty. but the caterpillars were cool. they were big, pure white and with red eyes. final destination was the tiger kingdom, where they raise tigers and have tourists come and take photos with the. they say they treat them well and just train them from a young age to be around humans and that the tigers are well fed enough that they are ok with humans laying on them for photos. i opted not to pay to go in and do the photos, which were an extra fee. but i got some good shots just walking around near the cages. we just got back to our original hotel here in chiang mai. we're heading out for a group dinner then i think the night market. tomorrow we're joining a cooking class where they take us to pick our all the ingredients at the market, then we cook and they give us some recipe books!
but just for a day, thankfully
before i get to the part where i discuss my experience with hell on earth, i will start with the good stuff. (btw sorry for not updating recently, laos had crappy internet and there was just a lot of to and fro'ing to be done which didn't leave much time. now i'm in chiang mai, thailand and all is good with the interwebs). picking up where i left off from my previous entry, the next morning in luang prabang sharon and i explored a pagoda in town at the top of this hill, with just lots of stairs. the pagoda slash hill is pho sy. it was pretty unspectacular except for the views of the surrounding area from up there. you could see the mekong river in all its brown glory and another nearby river i don't recall the name of, also in brown glory. but still, it was cool. there were some pretty flowers, funky twisted trees, and snails with shells along the way up. once back down, we just meandered into another temple with some pretty cool murals on the wall. some kid was dancing around us. i never know if these kids are just being cute or they're expecting money when they do it. i took a photo of these 3 cute kids playing on our bike ride in vang vieng, and after i showed them the photo, they put their hands out saying, "money??" they laughed and took them away though cause they were shy. anyway. we further meandered down to the river, which wasn't all that exciting right there. and the water is just really brown. not sure if it's only that color in rainy season or not. every few feet we were asked if we wanted a tuk tuk or a boat ride. we went through a local food market. the fruits looked pretty yummy, but the meats all were covered in flies. (see photo in album). nothing else too notable until we all boarded the trucks and took off to hike/swim at kuangsi waterfalls.
one special treat is on the way into the falls, there is a bear preserve for asiatic bears (aka small bears). they get to come there after being rescued from poachers or being hurt in the wild. they had a nice set up with hammocks and they were pretty lively. the falls were not disappointing. big, multiple levels, greenish blue water. the main falls are very high, so you can hike up to the semi-top. i opted to just swim. the water was refreshing (read: cold) and there were some annoying biting fish that were picking at my scabs on my knees that i inherited from mud volleyball a couple days before. i tried swimming under one of waterfalls, but it was just too powerful. i would swim with all my effort towards it, and it was like swimming in place. i made it near one of the smaller ones. and just enjoyed the water.
we had dinner as a group. several people got lao bbq, which involves some soup broth, lots of veggies and buffalo fat and other meats in a metal bundt cake-type pan over hot coals. i looked good, but i got a tofu stirfry dish that was yum. it was frank's bday, the brother of our tour leader owen. so we had a big ol' chocolate cake to celebrate. it was a nice relaxing evening which we rounded out by just sitting around on the porch chatting for a couple more hours.
the next morning was an early morning. i was planning to join some others and wake up at 5:30 am to go see some locals monks do their rounds to collect alms, or food/money. they line up and parade down the street and the devout locals, or tourists or whoever want to, can donate some rice or food or money into these pots they carry. but, unfortunately, when i woke up i was feeling a bit...off. i felt extremely cold, the kind of cold you feel when you have chills. uh-oh. so i slept in a little more, got my bag packed. and our group had to meet up early anyway to head out for a day long journey to chiang rai, thailand involving speed boats on the mekong river for some 6 odd hours...oh boy! i was feeling ok, minus the temperature thing. so i thought all would be ok. the speed boats involved covering our bags with plastic in case of rain. and packing a small pack to hold with us. then sitting 3 to a long wooden motorized speed boat, manned by one little lao man with no shoes. we were given life vests and helmets with visors, like motorcylce type. hardcore i know. there were some small cushions to sit on and lean on at least with your lower back.
the boats go really fast. i think they told me 80 kmh, which is abut 50 mph. so, yeah. fast. they have to dodge some rocks and stuff, kinda miami vice style. it was cool for approximately 1 hour. the mountains and cattle and water buffalo on the sides added to the interesting scenery. but then it kinda became a bit boring. until, i realized i had to pee. i hadn't felt very hungry for breakfast, cause my stomach was so so. so i had only had a big thing of orange juice. and i had to pee like no other time in my life. i was actually searching my bag for plastic bags or containers i could possibly pee into (sorry if this is graphic ha) and finally asked the boat driver to pull over. not and easy feat since there is like no where to really pull over to except sandy banks. which is what he did. i had to walk around the edge of this sandy bank to a point where no one would see me. i had sand up to my shins. but the excitement is just beginning.
our boat had some trouble starting again. took a few mins, but he got it up and running finally. we stopped for lunch at a random house like thing over the water. the bathrooms involved just basically going over a hole in the floor in a close off closet thing, and everything just went straight into the water. i still wasn't feeling hungry and all that great. i felt hot. it was hot outside, but i felt massively hot. and queasy. and achy. i got some panadol, aka tylenol from someone in the group which later helped this. luckily on the next leg of the boat ride (did i mention it was like 6 hours long, with stops every 1.5-2 hours or so?) i sort or slept so it went by quick. the next stop was a bathroom break. in another random floating house. i actually felt like i was going to puke at this point. but didn't. the guide gave me some tiger balm to rub on my stomach. at the following stop i thought i was feeling better. we had to sit in the boats and wait while they refueled, and i just got overheated and nauseas again and threw up a couple times. yay. at that point, we were very close to the end, but our boat broke down again. another boat had to come and attach itself to us to get us to plod along. the heat was melting us, especially since we were wearing long pants and shirts to protect from wind/sun burn. once up and running again, we made it to the end point. we had to get out, carry our bags up a hill and load onto a truck. someone carried my bag for me cause i was feeling weak. once at the top. i felt dizzy, and owen got me a sprite. but as he went to go get it, i threw up some more. so not fun. the journey was excruciating. and it wasn't even over. once on the trucks, we were dropped off at another pier where we had to go through lao immigration, load our bags onto another boat bleh and cross the river to thailand. there we had to drag our bags up a hill to thai immigration and then board another truck to take us on a 2 hour ride into the golden triangle. the only thing that saved me were some nice group members who got me drinks and carried my bags and the a/c int he truck on the way. i slept the whole way. once int he hotel, i just showered and slept. basically all night.
the next morning i was feeling better, but weak since i hadn't eaten. i ventured out and got some toast and crackers and chocolate milk. it took me 30 minutes to eat the toast. but i felt better afterwards. this day was mostly in the a/c. we were at the golden triangle, which is where laos, thailand and myanmar all meet up on the river. there's a lookout point where you can see all three. after that, we visited the opium museum about the history opium growing, the war and all that in the region. we broke up our some 4 ish hour car ride to chiang mai by stopping at this wacky place called the white temple. it is all white (!) and is buddhist, though it involves a lot of the artist's interpretation. there are skulls hanging from trees, and built into some of the columns. there is a sea of clay hands and arms coming up from the ground and tusks surrounding the entrance. it's supposed to be walking into the devil's lair i think...inside though, is a mural the artist has painted with lots of pop culture icons including neo from the matrix, kung fu panda, spiderman, the world trade center building being blown up, and if you look up over the door there is a face of some demon kind of thing. the door is the mouth. the eyes have hard to see hologram figures or g.w. bush in one eye and osama bin laden in the other eye. all i could think was, "ryan would love this place!" haha. it was strange, but also very cool. i think it would look especially cool at night or sunset.
i'll end this blog saying we made on final stop at a place where they make chestnuts. not so exciting. but we got to sample a bunch of flavors like coconut, spicy ones, and ginger and chocolate.
lots to catch up on!
05.16.2011 - 05.21.2011
well, my sim card doesn't really work in laos. so i'm dependent upon wifi, which seems to be rather dodgy in our hotels here. and there are not so many internet cafes around. but laos is spectacular!
the overnight train journey was 11 hours ish. but i felt that it went by fast. we hung out and played games and talked for a couple hours in the beginning. then around 10 we all headed to our bunk beds. the top beds fold out from the wall. and the lower ones are formed by flattening to the two seats which face each other. i was on the lower bunk. but you can pull a curtain across to give you some privacy. it wasn't the most comfortable bed i've ever slept on, but sleep i did. i came prepared with a sleeping pill (which i didn't have to take), an eye mask (which was a must) and ear plugs (another must). upon our arrival at the end of the line in thailand, we had to take a tuk tuk to the border crossing. then filled out our forms, got our visas and went through immigration. there we hopped on a bus which took us over the friendship bridge, aka the border between thailand and laos. on the other side i can't actually remember if we had to show our visas again, but then we hopped on yet another tuk tuk which took us to our hotel in vientiane which was a big white french colonial style building with a nice garden courtyard.
there isn't so much to do in vientiane. it's the capital, and city-ish. we walked down their "champs d'ellyses" (sp?) which terminated at a big version of the arc de triomphe (sorry if i'm butchering the french spellings. don't worry i'm probably also butchering the pronunciations). from the top of the arc, you get a view of the city, which wasn't really that noteworthy. we walked by the presidential palace, which i don't think is even being used by a president. then we made it to the mekong river bank. we ended up sitting near there to watch some locals set off rocket/fireworks. the locals were singing, dancing, and gathered around near the fireworks. not sure what they were celebrating though...finally we all grabbed dinner as a group at a charity restaurant in town. there the wait staff are kids who are kind of like apprentices in the restaurant biz, as it keeps them off the streets. the food was delicious and spicy! i tried one of the lao signature dishes called sticky rice, which is just what it sounds like. it comes in a little woven container. you pick up a chunk, it roll it around in your hands and dip it in different sauces and foods. when you are finished with the meal, it's bad luck not to put the lid of the container back on top. i had some eggplant dip with it (with probably like 2 chilis in it burrrrn) and some buffalo filet wrapped around some veggies with a non-spicy, but sweet tamarind sauce. mmmm!
we had to take a 4 hour bus ride the next morning to vang vieng, our next destination. there we checked into our bungalow style cottage rooms on stilts. we rented bikes from in town, and rode them out a few miles along bumpy roads with lots of puddles due to the previous rain. we passed amazing postcard-like views of green mountains (limestone karsts) with bits of mist and fog hovering around the tops. we passed green pastures with cows, who also roamed into the roads sometimes we had to pass right through a cattle herd. there were people farming and lots of little villages along the way. the villages were made of mostly straw huts with thatched roofs, often on stilts. there would be chickens running around and lots of dogs as well. i even saw a cock (rooster) fight (provoked by local men). we even saw a turkey at one point. there were really cute kids running around playing in the streams, or just running around. it was really, really cool. we finally got to our destination, which was called blue lagoon. it really was blue - due to the limestone. they had a big tree set up with ropes and swings and jumping off points into the water. after a grueling, bumpy bike ride, this was a welcome retreat. i also hiked up a little ways to explore a cave int he mountains. that was minorly impressive, only cause i haven't been to that many caves before. there was a nice little reclining buddha inside, just chilling.
that night we went out to dinner in town. i had more sticky rice, this time with a dish called lap, or larb. usually a spciy mixture of herbs and things with some type of meat. also delicious!
the next day in vang vieng was tubing day. i couldn't bring my camera for fear of getting it ruined, so i don't have any photos sadly. but it was sooooooo much fun. we rented tubes in town, and basically just floated down the (muddy) mekong river. it started out a bit bleak, since it was raining and not too hot yet. but we started playing volleyball at the first stop (there are several stops along the way that feature different activities and drinks and things) and then each one of us was subsequently thrown into the water by our tour guide. that helped loosen everyone up, so we were ready to go after that. the next stop had some loud music. we mostly just rested there as the sun finally came out. the next stop had a zip line into the water. i forgot to mention - at each stop, as you float there are boys that throw either an innertube on a rope or a bottle on a rope out to you and rope you in. otherwise you'd just keep sailing on down the river. the next stop had an even higher zipline and people were getting fake spray on tattoos for fun. the next stop had mud volleyball, a slide and a swing (like a trapeze) into the river. i tried all the ziplines and slides and swings and things too. we stayed at each stop for almost an hour. we were almost running out of time to return our tubes, but a few of us rushed back in them and floated down the river, which was just river and no stop at that point. we hopped off, returned our tubes luckily in time to get our deposits back. it was a great day. everyone was pretty well worn out so we just grabbed a small dinner and slept that night.
yesterday, we hopped on another bus. this time a 7 hour journey to luang prabang. the road was insanely windy and steep at times. so reading and sleeping were minimal. in fact, i even felt a bit carsick. but the views were amazing. more of the green limestone karsts and mountains that we winded our way through. once we arrived, we checked into our once again french colonial style hotel and our guide gave us a walking tour to orient ourselves. we headed to a night market for dinner, where we got plates of veggies of various forms and styles. a couple of the girls and i walked around the market, and scoped out what we'd like to buy. i ended up buying some pantaloon style pants - all i can say is, don't hate until you come here and you'll get sucked into the trend too!
my roomie (sharon the aussie) and i had a fairly early night. we tried watching some movie called funhouse, which appeared to be a d-movie about kids getting stuck in a funhouse at a carnival and the terrors that ensued - namely involving frankenstein, a fortune teller and killer dolls like chucky. unfortunately, the rain made the picture hazy. so we called it a night! today we have the morning off. then we're all heading to kuangsi waterfalls for the afternoon. i think the water there will also be blue like the blue lagoon. and we can just swim, hike and relax.
khao san road
05.14.2011 - 05.16.2011
the weekend market chatuchak is really extensive. lots of people's own fashion designs, and handmad clothes that are cheap. i found some good thailand-ish finds and had some yummy papaya salad and ice monster ice cream, a brand they have here. it's more like ice than cream...then we did some more shopping at a nearby mall. flo's friend bhavna (sp?) invited us to her home for dinner. her family is indian, so we had an amazing meal of roti, potatoes, cucumber stuff, yogurt and daal. so good! we also fortunately got to indulge on some delicous cakes and a meal at flo's friend's bakery in town. it was a great day for eating and flo has some generous friends
flo left early this morning, sad face...hope you got home ok, flo! i had to move hotels to meet up with my tour group. upon recommendation from the hotel concierge, i took a public bus to get to the next hotel. the first bus i needed zoomed right past me. i didn't realize you have to flag them down. luckily another one came shortly thereafter. i felt so accomplished once i got on. then i realized i had no clue exactly where it would put me and where i would need to get off. i asked a few people on the bus, and kinda gathered where to get off. it put me near the grand palace, which is super touristy. as i was walking on the street, a lady put a bag of corn in my purse. i tried giving it back. she put up her hand, like "no no, it's yours." i figured she wanted money for it. but she didn't take it so i kept walking. it was for feeding the disgusting pigeons (dinosaurs with feathers) around. once i walked away though, she came running after me yelling for it or for money or something. i finally just shoved it back to her and marched on. at least she didn't take anything out of my purse!
i found a tuk tuk, who totally overcharged me. a taxi driver nearby wanted 300 baht to drive me to my hotel which was like 5-10 mins away. he refused to use the meter. i talked the tuk tuk guy down, but still paid too much. oh well, the price you pay for being desperate i suppose.
i checked in at the hotel, called erawan house. it's near khao san road, which is the big backpacker area of bangkok. my roommate wasn't in yet, so i headed to chinatown on the nearby boat, which i love. it's more like a bus and it's easier than sitting in the crazy bkk traffic. chinatown was very much a chinatown - narrow, insanely crowded market hallways and stalls, a plethora of cheap stuff, and some food that was different than the thai vendors sell (prob cause it's chinese ha). the market wasn't so great. i tried a couple interesting, but slightly gross foods. and just walked around taking photos. there were boys playing cricket in the street. really cool old buildings. and who knew it was also near india town. there was a building called india emporium that sold saris and materials, indian food, shoes, and jewelry. oh, my favorite part of the trip was this girl in a wheelchair being pushed by her mother as she sang into a microphone to some music playing (from a boombox?). she had a donation box on her lap. that's some multitasking for ya - get some shopping and buskering done all at once!
when i got back to the hostel, i met my roomate sharon, an aussie girl. she's actually pretty cool and laid back. we met up with our tour leader and other group members for an intro and paperwork stuff. then we all headed out to dinner nearby. some of the group members are continuing on from another tour leg from vietnam and cambodia. basically they are on the opposite tour direction from me. then when we get back to bangkok after laos, they'll continue on south to the beaches of thailand and then malaysia and singapore. everyone is super friendly and seems like a good group dynamic. i'm the only american. there's one aussie, 3 brits, 1 irish girl, 2 kiwis, 1 swiss girl, 1 german girl and there will be 2 colombians meeting up with us soon. after dinner, we headed out on khao san road. it was not what i was expecting. i figured it'd just be a bunch of grungy hippies. and it was a lot of that, but then there are neon signs and lights and over the top things everywhere. hippies in vegas!
today i went to visit jim thompson's house with the german girl vicki and sharon my roomie. the house is an amazing teak amalgam of old thai style houses. mr. thompson was an american architect. he joined the army i believe around WWI and was in bangkok for that. he enjoyed it so much he decided to come back here and live. he built this cool house. later he mysteriously disappeared on a trip to malaysia. it's now a museum, and it's such an amazing jungle retreat. lots of privacy with the greenery around. and the houses are all dark wood. all the furniture is thai style, simple, lots of carved wood and cool paintings, buddha statues and things. it's very open with big windows that just have these big wooden shutters. it's also very peaceful with a koi pond, a pond with a fountain, and a pond with turtles and crocodile fish. i think i could live there. in fact, next to chatsworth house in england, it is one of my favorite places. sigh...
we're off to laos tonight on an overnight train. here's hoping for some sleep!
ps sorry for the lack of photos. it's really been a pain to upload them. it's been super time consuming when i have to pay for internet everywhere. one computer just said no to uploading. another internet place lost power twice. and this morning the rain caused the internet to go out a bunch. i decided to just upload them to my picasa album so you guys can flip through them at your leisure, and i'll try to update that as i go. i think i'm going to have to stick to blogging with just words though. i'll try to add pics here and there. but it's really not going so well...i'll email the picasa link for all to enjoy!